'You Have to Believe in Yourself'
Tufts graduate and host of NBC's "Today" show Meredith Vieira tells Class of 2008 that "as much as you reach forward for your dream, it's important to never forget to reach out to those around you."
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Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.18.08] Award-winning journalist and television host Meredith Vieira urged members of the class of 2008 to listen to their own voices and to believe in themselves. "You have an internal compass," she said, speaking at the all-university commencement exercises on May 18. "I would urge you to follow it."
Under a nearly cloudless sky, Vieira was the main speaker and the recipient of an honorary degree at a ceremony held on the Medford/Somerville campus where some 2,800 students were awarded degrees from the university's seven schools.
In front of a joyous and often exuberant audience of students and their families, Vieira spoke in sometimes funny and irreverent terms about her own odyssey starting at Tufts, where she was in the class of 1975. Being asked to speak at Tufts' commencement ceremonies was very emotional for her, said the host of NBC's "Today" show. To appreciative laughter Vieira added, "If I applied here now I'd never get in, so I'm grateful to be invited back."
The university awarded 2,828 degrees – 1,533 graduate degrees and 1,295 undergraduate degrees – during its 152nd commencement. Tufts President Lawrence S. Bacow also presented honorary degrees to Steven S. Manos, the retired executive vice president of Tufts; Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver; Susan Rodgerson, founder of Artists for Humanity; Robert S. Schwartz, the deputy editor of The New England Journal of Medicine and a former professor at the Tufts University School of Medicine; and Donald E. Wilson, senior vice president of health sciences at Howard University, who received his medical degree from Tufts.
Vieira said there was no clear path from point A to point B or any "right" way to find success. Her own career, she said, began partly by chance when she took a broadcast journalism course at Tufts and discovered she enjoyed it. She was asked to narrate a radio documentary and a CBS radio newsman heard it and offered her an internship.
"And literally that's all it took," said Vieira. "It was in that moment. It was one person seeing a spark in me and opening a door that I went through. Had I not taken that class, I don't really know what direction I would have taken."
Vieira told the graduating students to believe in themselves and related an incident in which a pep talk from her father helped her to realize she had the ability and wherewithal to succeed in a challenging career. In her first television job, she said, the news director called her in and said, "You don't have what it takes." Her father asked her if she thought she could do the job. When she said she could, he encouraged her to believe in herself. She returned to work, met with the news director and he gave her a second chance.
Vieira was tested again in a well-known incident. By now the mother of one child with a second on the way, she was working for the news show "60 Minutes" – a job she had long dreamed about. She was told to either work full time or leave.
"In that moment I did what I urge all of you to do… I listened to my gut and I said, 'You know what, I'm out of here.' And I said it in a nice way. And that night for the first night in years I really slept well."
"I had to be true to myself, as hard as that was and as scary as that was. You've got to listen to the voice in your gut. It is individual. It is unique. It is yours. It's called being authentic. There's only one of you and maybe you're not going to follow the path that other people would like to put you on, but that's okay. You're going to find the path that's right for you."
Vieira said one of the rewards of her profession is hearing from people who thank her for doing her job, for informing them or for helping them get through a difficult time by making them smile.
"What I've found," Vieira said, "is that all of us need to connect, we need to reach out to each other. It is the greatest gift that you can give to anybody and ultimately the most important gift of all…Good luck, get out of here and may you truly live every day of your life."
Story written by Marjorie Howard, Staff Writer, Office of Publications
Homepage photo by Melody Ko, University Photography. Top photo by Louie Palu for University Photography.
This story originally ran on May 18, 2008.